House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Purslane and Campion are two Gentian shatterlings from the House of Flowers, two of a thousand clones of Abigail Gentian who left the solar system around the year 3000 to travel and explore the galaxy. All shatterlings meet up for their thousand nights reunion during which they share memories of what they have experienced.

house-of-sunsSix million years have passed since the first ships left the solar system and due to the technology available the shatterlings are effectively immortal. They can pass the hundreds of years travelling between star systems in stasis and experience anything the galaxy has to offer.

On their belated way to the next reunion, Campion and Purslane receive a message warning them not to enter the chosen system and to flee to a designated safe system. The Gentian line were ambushed, almost their entire number wiped out and only a few dozen managing to escape and make their way to Neume where they await any stragglers.

Why does someone want the Gentian Shatterlings dead? Is there a traitor in their midst that helped this atrocity? And what exactly is the House of Suns?

This is the story we follow in House of Suns. Travelling with Campion and Purslane while they visit some systems on their way to the reunion, the aftermath of the attack and the events that follow. The first thing that you need to get used to is the timeframe of the novel. As all travel is done at sub-light speeds, with ftl not possible, the events of travelling between systems is done in tens and hundreds of years of subjective time. Once you get the hang of this it’s easy enough to focus on the story without thinking of anything outside of it, unless it’s mentioned within the narrative.

The story flows along quite well and is well written, probably one of Reynolds’ best to date. Parts of the story feel like self contained short stories, particularly the early sections, although everything in the book has a reason for being there. I was impressed with the scope of the story and the timeframes involved, although I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as I was hoping for. I love Reynolds’ short stories and have enjoyed a couple of his novels more than this one and really hoped it would deliver more than it did.

I can’t really fault the novel, it’s just my tastes that meant I enjoyed it less than I hoped. There was no real feeling of having to read on, no urgency at all. Perhaps that is the result of having the narrative and background over hundreds, thousands and millions of years. A slow burner more than a page turner.

3 thoughts on “House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds”

  1. The name Abigail Gentian rings a bell – is this set in the same universe as Pushing Ice? The issue with the timeframe reminds me of when I read Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men – an awesome book but there was no burning desire to keep turning the pages.

  2. I must admit that it didn’t ring any bells with me. I don’t think it’s the same universe, the prologue/epilogue in Pushing Ice was set quite a bit in the future and House of Suns didn’t seem like the same one. Could be wrong though.

  3. Reynolds considers it a “standalone” on his site, and says Pushing Ice is in its own universe. Looks like HOS is in its own independant universe.

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